Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Small Victory

Chile's center-right government has backed off its attempt to convert Augusto Pinochet from a military dictatorship to a "regime". The change was proposed by the National Educational Council and explained by Education Minister Harald Beyer as being "...about using the same expression that is used around the world, a more general term such as military regime." His words suggest that this is a small technical matter, nothing of significance.

Chileans knew it was bullshit and reacted strongly. The government caved quickly. The wounds left by the dictatorship are too real in the memory of many Chileans who lived through the Pinochet years. Telling them that Pinochet was not a military dictator was bound to ignite opposition. Even the hapless Mr Beyer admitted that he personally "had no problem" in recognising that Gen Pinochet led a "dictatorial government".

The current government is Chile's first conservative government elected since the end of Pinochet's dictatorship. The right wing of that center-right coalition no doubt includes some who look back on the dictatorship with at least nostalgia if not righteous and complete justification. Perhaps the attempt to lessen the stigma associated with Chile's leaders during those years was a favor to those members of the governing coalition.

It won't be the last attempt to re-write Chilean history. History is constantly revised by time, distance and knowledge. Chile's living memory of the dictatorship is the knowledge that strongly defines that history at present. As the living memory fades, opportunity arises to create alternate understanding of and apologies for the Pinochet years. The proponents of the textbook revision (or their successors) will be there.

This small victory keeps the truth of experience and memory alive to contend with future lies.

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